BELLINGHAM, Wash. --- -
By Butch Kamena, WWU Athletics
Fifty years ago, the Western Washington College of Education (now Western Washington University) football team accomplished something no Viking gridiron squad had before or since.
The 1938 Vikings finished the season with a 7-0-0 record, the only team in school history to go through a year undefeated and untied.
Now, half a century later, details of that great season have started to fade into the fog of history, but the fond memories of the team coached by Charles "Chuck" Lappenbusch still remain.
"It's probably become more meaningful as the years have gone by," said Bob Tisdale, a halfback on that squad. "At the time, it was good, but I suppose we thought we could do it again next year."
Lappenbusch, or "Lappy," as his players referred to him, was in the early stages of experimenting with what became known as the "Straight Line Philosophy."
Lappenbusch described the Straight Line as "a workable philosophy that cuts down on confusion, propagates teamwork and doesn't insult your intelligence."
The philosophy may have been summed up best by Frank "Fritz" Chorvat, the captain and quarterback of the team.
"If you don't know what the hell you're doing, then get out of the way."
In 1938, the Straight Line was still in its infancy,
"Lappy didn't have the terminology down when we played for him," Tisdale said. "That came later, and built up over time."
Used exclusively on defense, the Straight Line consisted of six down linemen (called penetrators) to combat the Single Wing attack of that day, two flankers (cornerbacks), the ball chaser (middle linebacker), full flexor and tail safety.
The key player on the defense was ball chaser Fred Baldwin,
"Baldwin was the best linebacker they'd seen on the West Coast when he played in 1938," said Lappenbusch.
While the Straight Line innovated the defense, the Vikings also were ahead of their time on offense -- running the Notre Dame box designed by Knute Rockne.
"We threw a lot, 15 or 20 passes a game," said Howard Jones, a transfer from University of Washington, who played in the backfield with Tisdale and Chorvat. "Tisdale threw to the right, and I'd throw to the left."
To put this in perspective, Jones recalled a game played while he was at the UW in which the Huskies faced Notre Dame and neither team threw a pass the entire day.
"We were the first team to throw that much," Lappenbusch said. "There was a felt need, so we went for what the situation called for."
Jones was one of four starters to transfer from the UW. Baldwin, end Don Bell and fullback Al Munkres had also played for the Huskies. This was partly a result of Lappenbusch's friendship with then UW head coach Jim Phelan, for whom he had played and been an assistant coach.
Three other starters also were transfers. Tisdale had come from Washington State, and tackles Vaughn Weber and Ed Reischman came from Saint Martin's.
The four remaining starters -- Chorvat, end Jim Hall, and guards Jim Hollingsworth and Russ Davis -- spent their entire careers at Western.
For a team with a perfect record, the Vikings hardly won by overpowering scores. Four of their seven victories were by seven points or less.
"We didn't slaughter people," said Tisdale. "The team just rose to the occasion, and that's what it takes."
The season opened with a narrow 6-3 non-league victory over Saint Martin's. Three more non-league triumphs followed, as Western defeated Fort Lewis, 20-7; Oregon Normal, 13-0; and the UW Frosh, 6-0.
The Vikings then opened Washington Intercollegiate Conference (Winco) play with a 7-0 victory over Central Washington and followed with a 33-14 triumph over Pacific Lutheran.
That set up a season-ending showdown with Eastern Washington. The Savages also were 2-0 in conference play, and Western had not defeated the Cheney school since 1927.
The evening before the game, a crowd of Western students and team supporters gathered for a parade and pep rally which blocked traffic in downtown Bellingham for 15 minutes.
The day of the game, a crowd of over 2,000 gathered at Battersby Field. Two sequences of play determined the final outcome.
In the second quarter, Western had the ball at its own 40. Backup halfback Link Sarles connected with Chorvat for a 32-year gain, On the next play, Bell got behind the Eastern defense and Sarles found him in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown.
The 7-0 lead stood firm because of a third quarter goal line stand in which the Savages had four plays from the two-yard line, but were unable to score.
"Defense was the key," said Lappenbusch. "We couldn't have beaten Eastern with an ordinary defense."
In the days following the game, there was some talk of the Vikings traveling to California in December to face San Jose State in the Prune Bowl, but nothing came of it.
"It was a good year," said Jones. "Everything jelled. Lappy was about as good as they came, it just took him awhile to get together the players he wanted."
Head Coach: Charles Lappenbusch Assistant: Loy McGee Manager: Roy Franko
Players: Fred Baldwin Donald Bell Robert Bean Ralph Blanchard William Bernard Anor Boswell Wesley Baker Frank Chorvat (Captain) Elmer Coney John Cornwall Russell Davis Richard Dombroski Jay Flanagan John Fox Jim Hollingsworth Jim Hall Kenneth Hill Joe Hansen Howard Jones Jack Janikula Alfred Munkres Alick Mitchell Ralph Nurmi John Nelson Magnus Ness Edward Reischman Glen Smith Link Sarles Robert Tisdale Stanley Targus Marion Thornton William Vanderboom Hnery White Vaughn Weber Walter Wilkinson Charles Woodard
Dr. T.H. "Butch" Kamena is in his third year as Assistant Athletics Director for Compliance and Academics at WWU and 15th as compliance officer and academic advisor. He also was a contributor in sports information, a position he held for 29 years, and is in his 21st year as an adjunct professor in WWU's Department of Political Science. Kamena earned a doctorate degree in political science at University of Calgary in 2001, a master's degree in political science at WWU in 1993 and a bachelor's degree in political science and journalism at WWU in 1989.
CHARLES F. "LAPPY" LAPPENBUSCH
At the time of his death on Sept. 28, 1996, at 87, Charles Lappenbusch was the winningest football coach in Western Washington University history. Lappenbusch coached football for 20 years at Western, posting an 81-62-15 record and leading the Vikings to their only undefeated, untied season (7-0-0) in 1938. He came to Western in 1933 and remained on the faculty in the physical education department until 1975. He served as director of athletics from 1933 to 1962.
"Lappy" was perhaps best known as an innovator. His Straight Line Philosophy for football and basketball influenced a wide variety of coaches, and he was far ahead of his time in the use of vitamins and the development of protective equipment for football.
Lappenbusch was inducted into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Hall of Fame in 1961 and was an inductee into the WWU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1976.
Lappenbusch published a number of books, among them "Football-Straight Line Philosophy-Offense," "Basketball-Straight Line Defense" and "Football-Straight Line Philosophy-Kill the T."
Lappenbusch obtained both his bachelor and master's degrees at the University of Washington where he earned All-America honors in football as an offensive guard in 1932. He also attended University of Puget Sound after graduating from Buckley High School in Auburn.
Lappenbusch was born on May 18, 1908, at Lake Tapps, Wash.
Presented by Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015
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